How Long Should You Stay Home With the Stomach Flu?

Stomach viruses – commonly (though incorrectly) called "stomach flu" – make us miserable. No one wants to spend days dealing with vomiting and diarrhea. If you add in a fever, nausea, and weakness on top of that, it adds up to misery.

Man throwing up in toilet with glass of water in foreground
Tom Merton / OJO Images / Getty Images

Not many people consider leaving the house when the stomach flu hits. It often starts out with repeated bouts of vomiting and it's difficult to go anywhere when you can hardly stay out of the bathroom. But sometimes the symptoms lessen but still linger and you may wonder how long you really need to stay home to keep from spreading it to other people.

This question can be even harder for parents to answer when their kids are sick. If you need to get back to work and aren't sure if your child is well enough to go to school -- what are the guidelines?

General Recommendations for How Long to Stay Home

In general, you need to stay home or keep your kids home for 24 hours to 48 hours after the symptoms of the illness subside. This includes vomiting and diarrhea. And don't forget the fever.

If your child is running a fever, she is contagious and is more likely to spread her germs to everyone she comes into contact with. Even without a fever, stomach viruses are highly contagious and spread easily from person to person when you have symptoms.

It can be tempting to send your child to school if they went all night without vomiting or having diarrhea, but waiting a full 24 hours after the last episode occurred is important because the symptoms could return. If you make it a full day and night with no symptoms, it is unlikely that they will reappear after that. 

How to Recover Quickly

If you are dealing with a stomach virus and want to make the symptoms stop as quickly as possible, there are several steps you should take right away. Many people unknowingly prolong their illness and symptoms because they treat them incorrectly.

You should not eat or drink immediately after vomiting. Allowing your stomach time to rest after it has expelled everything in it is important. You need to wait at least 15 minutes after vomiting before you try to take even a small sip of water. Increasing your intake of water by a small amount will ensure that your body can handle it without repeated bouts of vomiting.

Treating your symptoms properly when you have a stomach virus is essential to recovering quickly. Once you are symptom-free for a full 24 to 48 hours, you can return to work or school.

Contagious Period

The true length of time that you are contagious when you have a stomach virus depends on which virus is causing your symptoms.

Two of the most common causes of "stomach flu" – norovirus and rotavirus – can be spread for up to 2 weeks after you have recovered. They also are contagious before symptoms appear, so it can be difficult to avoid spreading them to others since you won't even know you're sick.

Frequent and proper handwashing is the best way to cut down on the spread of the virus.

A Word From Verywell

Remembering to wash your hands very frequently, especially after using the bathroom, changing diapers and before and after eating is the most effective way to decrease the chances that you catch or spread a stomach virus. If you have a young child, there is a rotavirus vaccine available to help prevent this very serious cause of severe diarrhea in kids.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is stomach flu?

    Stomach flu has no relationship to influenza but is rather a term popularly used to describe gastroenteritis. Gastroenteritis is usually caused by viruses such as rotavirus but can also be caused by bacteria like Campylobacter and E. coli as well as certain types of fungus and parasites.

  • What are the symptoms of stomach flu?

    Stomach flu (gastroenteritis) typically causes diarrhea and vomiting as well as abdominal cramping. Viral infections often manifest with fever, fatigue, headache, and muscle pain. Bacterial infections can sometimes cause bloody stools.

  • How long does stomach flu last?

    Generally, the symptoms of gastroenteritis develop suddenly within one to five days of exposure to an infectious agent and resolve within a week.

  • How is stomach flu spread?

    Stomach flu is usually spread by the fecal-oral route (meaning the accidental ingestion of infected stool). This includes consuming contaminated foods or water, touching contaminated objects or surfaces, or coming into close contact with an infected person. Proper hand washing and the regular cleaning of surfaces can greatly reduce the risk.

  • How long is stomach flu contagious?

    The contagiousness of stomach flu can vary depending on the cause of the infection. Of the three most common causes:

    • Rotavirus is generally contagious two days prior to the onset of symptoms and up to 10 days after.
    • Campylobacter can be contagious from two to five days prior to the onset of symptoms and up to a week or more after.
    • Escherichia coli (E. coli) can be contagious three to four days prior to the onset of symptoms and up to 10 days after.
  • When should I call a doctor about stomach flu?

    Call a doctor or go to your nearest urgent care center if you have gastroenteritis and:

    • Cannot keep down fluids for more than 24 hours
    • Have a fever over 104 degrees F
    • Have been vomiting for more than two days
    • Have signs of severe dehydration
    • Have bloody stools
    • Have bloody vomit
Was this page helpful?
Article Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Prevent the Spread of Norovirus. Updated Nov.ember 19, 2018

  2. KidsHealth. Vomiting. Updated May 2019.

  3. Graves NA. Acute gastroenteritis. Prim Care. 2013 Sep;40(3):727-41. doi:10.1016/j.pop.2013.05.006

  4. Stuempfig ND, Seroy J. Viral gastroenteritis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Updated June 24, 2021.

  5. Sattar SBA, Singh S. Bacterial gastroenteritis. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Updated August 11, 2021.

  6. LeClair CE, Budh DP. Rotavirus. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Updated August 11, 2021.

  7. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Campylobacter (campylobacteriosis): information for health professionals. Updated December 23, 2019.

  8. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. E. coli (Escherichia coli): questions and answers. Updated December 1, 2014.

  9. MedlinePlus. Gastroenteritis (stomach flu). Updated June 21, 2016.